Cameron Archer has gone from strength-to-strength since his hat-trick against Barrow last season – and eyes will be on the young forward this summer ahead of what could be a real breakthrough year.
Words: Andy Bates | @k2_villa
After what seemed like a short summer break from the beautiful game, Steven Gerrard began his pre season preparations with the annual ritual of a trip along the M6 to face Walsall, at the newly named ‘Poundland’ Bescot Stadium. Many of the first team squad were not present, having been given extra time off due to their international exploits, including Emi Martinez, Lucas Digne and summer signings Philippe Coutinho and Boubacar Kamara. This meant an afternoon in the spotlight for some fringe players, as well as academy graduates looking to make their mark this summer.
Starters Sinisalo and Finn Azaz have since secured exciting loan moves to Burton Albion and Plymouth Argyle respectively, but all eyes were firmly fixed on young centre forward Cameron Archer, who many are tipping to be a regular fixture in the matchday squad, as back up to England internationals, Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, both of whom will be looking for improvements on last season’s showings.
Archer has himself just completed a reasonably successful 6 month loan spell at Preston North End, with their manager Ryan Lowe keen to acquire the Walsall born forward’s services again next term. He managed 7 goals in 20 appearances for the Greater Manchester outfit, even being rewarded with his own chant, “Cameron Archer baby”, to the tune of the Human league classic, ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, for his efforts.
Archer started the match, with the large looming figure of former Villa loanee Tammy Abraham in the stands, there apparently to watch his brother Timmy, who was a trialist in the Walsall side, although one can but hope there may have been another purpose of his attendance. Abraham is one of a number of Villa number 9’s, against whom the likes of Archer, Watkins and Ings will be measured. His 26 goals during Villa’s Promotion season went down in history as he was the first player to reach 25 league goals in a season since the legend Andy Gray back in the 70s, so it was fitting that the latest pretender to the throne was in the Villa line up.
It would probably be true to say that Archer would not have been on any Villa fan’s radar this time last summer. He had completed an underwhelming loan season at Solihull Moors, with focus more directed towards Louie Barry, Brad Young and the rest of the brilliant U18 FA Trophy winning side. But it was the EFL Cup match at Barrow at the start of the season that launched him spectacularly into our consciousness. Archer probably wouldn’t have played the match if record signing Wesley hadn’t been sent to Club Brugge on loan that day, as it would have been an important fitness exercise for the Brazilian, who had missed 18 months with a serious knee ligament injury.
Archer took his opportunity firing in a hat trick in a 6-0 win, before following it up with bullet header in the next round, in the more auspicious surroundings of Stamford Bridge, only for Villa to lose on penalties. Alongside this, the striker nicknamed ‘Little Tevez’ at Bodymoor Heath, shone in the EFL Papa John’s Trophy, as part of Villa’s Under 21 team, who were pitched against first team’s from League’s 1 and 2, scoring in every game, including another hat trick against Burton Albion.
If interest in Archer had been strong following the Barrow match, there weren’t many EFL clubs who weren’t having a look at him come the January window, as new manager Steven Gerrard made him available to go out on loan to gain more experience, eventually deciding that Deepdale would be the ideal place for him to hone his talents.
On reflection, there is little more that Archer could have done last season, as he took his opportunity in each situation that presented itself. The final challenge, as reward for his achievements was a call up to the England U21 squad for a series of qualification matches in June. Once again he grabbed his chance, scoring 4 goals in 4 games, alongside clubmate Jacob Ramsey in that squad.
The one thing that is universally recognised is that Archer is a clinical finisher. Left foot, right foot, header, inside or outside the box, finishing chances or creating them for himself, he has shown himself to be a deadly marksman over the past 12 months. These are attributes that many would say, cannot be coached, as we have seen our own £30million first team strikers, toil in front of goal at times last season, scoring goals is the hardest job in football, but the modern centre forward has to be so much more than just a goal scorer, or at times, even forgoing his own glory, to do a job for the team, to which fellow striker Keinan Davis would attest.
In Archer we appear to have a young player who has that natural ability in abundance and he again showed that in the friendly at Walsall, finishing smartly after an error in the Saddlers defence. The question marks will be about his physicality and ability to lead a forward line against some of the world’s best defenders, will his pace and natural instincts be enough and can he ably deputise for, or even challenge Watkins and Ings in the forward line. Then when surrounded by international players of the quality or Coutinho, Buendia and Digne, providing the ammo, can he be the man to supply those finishing touches which were so patently missing last term?
For now, Archer has joined the first team squad on the much anticipated pre season trip to Australia, for friendlies against Leeds Utd, Brisbane Roar and Manchester United, with no obvious rumours of a new inbound striker and the likelihood that the number 9 jersey will be made available if and when Wesley leaves the club. The message from Steven Gerrard will clearly be, to keep doing what he’s doing, get on the scoresheet and make it appear foolhardy for any manager worth their salt, to let him out the door this summer.